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My first Slayer review on this site was of "Show No Mercy", which still currently reigns as my favorite album of theirs. In that review I mentioned that I wasn't exactly the biggest Slayer fan in the world. Well, after a few months of actually listening to what they boys offer, I've grown far more admiring of their work...for the most part. My original opinion of Slayer was based solely of this legendary affair. I used to think of it as a loud, incoherent mess of an album. And for the most part I still do, only now I like it even less because after the greatness and progression of Slayer's last two albums and one EP, this one stands as a spastic, sloppy little earsore. "Reign In Blood", while definitely bringing home the bacon in terms of genre-bending brutality and musical performance, is a choppy, too-short misstep in the band's 80's discography.
As I just said, the band is on fire here, which is partly why I gave the album something higher than 60-69%. Tom Araya really lets it go with his patented yells and and gravelly shouting, not to mention some of the finest screams in the group's history. His bass, however, is another story. This is probably the first of many, many Slayer albums where the bass is practically nonexistent, and it does hurt the layers of the sound a bit. King and Hanneman very viciously tearing out riffs up and down their axes, making their efforts on "Hell Awaits" ALMOST tame in comparison. Admittedly they rely on tremolo picking a bit much, but hey, they still fucking kick! The highlight of the four of them is easily Dave Lombardo. This is probably the guy's best career performance. He is absolutely relentless on pounding those skins, never once letting up with double bass and leaving nary a quiet moment alone with a solid fill.
Even though the guys are great at what they do, it's how they do it that's a different matter. "Reign in Blood" may have pushed the envelope in total brutality and helped birth death metal, but that doesn't stop it from being a choppy experiment with half-songs, mumbled riffs, repetitive lyrics and a miserably short running time. There's only about 2 songs total on here that aren't a waste of space. First off, of course, "Angel of Death". One of the best Slayer songs ever; totally and completely ferocious riffing, probably the only good solo on the album, brutal lyrics and one of my all-time favorite heavy metal screams opening up the song. The first half of my second pick is "Piece By Piece", a first half because "Piece By Piece" is still basically a half song. It does have more structure than most other numbers on here, and you can actually make out what the hell Araya is shouting about. The second half of my second pick id the legendary title track; I call this one a half song in of itself because like 30-40 seconds of this thing is made up of damn sound effects! Regardless, the song itself is great; lots of wicked mosh riffing and one of the best breakdowns of all time at 2:11.
The rest of this album of half songs need not apply. Some are okay, like the more mid-paced moments of "Jesus Saves" or the solid soloing of "Criminally Insane", but the rest of these tracks just come and go really in a chaotic, messy rush of jumbled vocals and riffs buried under relentless adrenaline.
Overall, this album is a big step down from the group's last 3 main efforts. While I do appreciate their performances and the fact that the viciousness helped give birth to death metal, it's that viciousness that kills the record. Only about (I guess technically) song great songs, while otherwise riffs and variety get thrown out the window in favor of aimless numbskull brutality. It's too bad, I would have love to have seen what Slayer could have evolved into RIGHT after "Hell Awaits".